From its opening moment, with Green Day belting out the ''Boulevard of Broken Dreams," last night's MTV Video Music Awards was all chaotic drudgery. Yes, Billie Joe looked great with his fierce eye makeup; but the overplayed power ballad and the old-school pyrotechnics instantly brought a glaze to the eyes.
It's called starting without a bang. And, set in the hollows of Miami's American Airlines Arena, leaping disorientingly among too many stages, the telecast proceeded to last forever. Despite host Diddy's incessantly repeated promise that ''Anything can happen," nothing much did, except for a disjointed mess of dancing, pimping, hand waving, camera angling, and mutual-admiration-society star bonding.
The performances -- from Kanye West, Coldplay, the Killers, 50 Cent -- were as jittery as Shakira's abs. And the presenter jokes were just as flat. Unless you think that Paris Hilton and Bow Wow competing over whose bling is the blingiest is the height of funny times.
The most bizarre segment had to be R. Kelly's long performance of ''Trapped in the Closet." He looked oddly deluded as he lip-synched and acted out the melodramatic gay-straight adultery ballad alone on the stage. It was like watching an experiment in psychodrama set in a mental institution. Most of the other performances were shot from countless and dizzying angles, hardly moving in to the singers' faces; but the camera seemed mesmerized into steadiness by Kelly's strange turn.
The last performance was also peculiar, in that MTV ceded its show-capping moments to Kelly Clarkson. After Green Day won the video of the year award, ''American Idol" winner Clarkson sang her oh-so-rocked-out hit ''Since U Been Gone" while undergoing a staged rain shower. Indeed, she was all wet.
Diddy was full of grand self-referential gestures, including throwing his watch to a fan in the audience. Such a man of the people, that Diddy. He also said he wouldn't dance -- cue audience begging -- before he broke into a few moves. He does it all for us.
In an effort -- can you say trying too hard? -- to verify his ''anything can happen" claim, Diddy brought out a few odd ducks. Yes, that was MC Hammer and dancers drawing a few grins from star audience members Jay-Z and Usher. Yes, that was Shaquille O'Neal towering on the stage, yes that was Eric Roberts plugging his stepson's record, yes that was the revived Beavis and Butt-head telling bad jokes before the commercials. But none of Diddy's surprises were especially surprising. Nope, not a surprise to see Diddy conducting an orchestra to a Biggie Smalls video in yet another emotional tribute.
At some point late in the show, just when you thought your clock might be running slow, just when you got tired of seeing Usher giving smiley standing ovations, just when you were hoping Paris Hilton would premiere the first song from her forthcoming album, Diddy presented suitcases of cash to the winners of his Viewer's Choice fashion contest. And up from the wilds of the audience came the slick Snoop Dogg and Gwen Stefani in a Flinstonian leopard dress.
Folks, it's true; Stefani lost two MTV Moonmen to Clarkson, but she won the style award. It was that kind of night.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.